A watered-down response

A watered-down response

By David Czamanske 10/23/2008

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Too little, too late. That was the opinion of several members of Pasadena’s Environmental Affairs Commission and half the members of the City Council when they were asked on Sept. 22 to support a proposed schedule of penalties for violation of Stage II of the city’s Water Shortage Plan.

Instead, the council unanimously adopted a motion offered by Councilman Steve Haderlein directing Pasadena’s Water and Power Department (PWP) to report back in six months on a detailed plan to reduce usage by 10 to 30 percent.
In a two-hour discussion that preceded council action, several members expressed doubts that the proposed penalties would achieve meaningful water conservation goals.

Members of the public testified prior to the council’s vote that PWP had failed to take effective action during the last year to address the city’s impending water shortage crisis.

Low rainfall conditions throughout the past two years have significantly reduced levels in the state’s water supply reservoirs. In early June Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought, the first such declaration since 1991, and urged local water agencies to take “aggressive, immediate action” to reduce water consumption. The Metropolitan Water District warned that it may soon be necessary to implement mandatory water reductions.

While Azusa, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and other cities began implementing programs more than a year ago to curtail water use, it was only last December — just as the rainy season began — that PWP proposed a program for voluntary water conservation. The city’s Environmental Advisory Commission (EAC) reluctantly endorsed the proposed program, but requested that PWP return in the spring with a comprehensive plan to cope with the water shortage if it continued.

However, rather than hiring or assigning staff to aggressively plan and implement a water conservation program, PWP instead retained a public relations firm to create cute little ads featuring “water wasters,” in hopes that the populace would be shamed into conserving water. The department paid to have the ads plastered on Pasadena’s bus-stop shelters and in the Pasadena Star-News, Pasadena Weekly, on Web sites of those publications and in other media.

But “shaming” didn’t work. In the first eight months of this year, instead of a 10 percent water savings, water usage actually increased by 3 percent. (Water consumption was down by 5 percent in August, but that most likely was due to a cooler month than the same period in 2006, the base year for comparison.)

In August PWP came back to the EAC, asking its support for a proposed schedule of penalties. EAC balked, pointing out that there was no overall plan through which the penalties were being proposed.

Their frustrations found their best expression in a letter to the City Council from EAC members Roger Gray and Mark Baum. Mayor Bill Bogaard read portions of the letter aloud at the Sept. 22 Council meeting and asked PWP General Manager Phyllis Currie to respond.

Currie stated that penalties were designed to address repeat water wasters; i.e., those few customers who continue to violate voluntary water use restrictions after they have been warned, sometimes repeatedly.

She had no immediate answer to penetrating questions as to why PWP had not yet developed a comprehensive water conservation program, other than to say that it would take two years to develop water rates based on individualized user water budgets, as advocated by EAC Chair Michael Hurley and Councilman Steve Madison. (Irvine Ranch Water District — see below — reportedly accomplished this task in six months.) She added that working with the EAC in developing the plan would hinder rather than help its progress.

Pasadena’s Department of Water and Power has a dedicated staff that, with the aid of consultant PACE Global Energy, is just beginning a process of developing an Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) for the Department’s Energy Division.

Senior management must make a similar commitment — bringing on a consultant if necessary — to develop a comprehensive water conservation plan during the next six months. That plan, and any resulting publicity, needs to emphasize positive actions that residents and businesses should take to reduce water consumption and provide economic incentives and staff support for those actions.

One agency PWP might look to for guidance is the Irvine Ranch Water District, which implemented a sophisticated five-tiered water-rate structure in 1992 that has reduced average landscape water use by 61 percent.

The department must then turn to the task of developing an IRP for the water division that addresses not only conservation but the full range of water-supply issues, including increased investments in water-use efficiency, development and use of recycled water and overdraft of ground water in the Raymond Basin.

Only then can Pasadena’s citizens be assured that their faucets will not run dry sometime in the near future.

David Czamanske is a longtime activist with the Sierra Club. Contact him at dczamanske@hotmail.com.

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